Ballmer: Most Vista work came in last two years

Microsoft's CEO on the Vista development process and future operating system releases

While it's taken Microsoft half a decade to bring out a new version of its client operating system, the real development work on Windows Vista only took around two years, according to the head of the company.

Steve Ballmer, Microsoft's chief executive officer, reflected on what Microsoft had learned from the process and delays in bringing Vista to market during a question-and-answer session following the business launch of the OS Thursday in New York.

"Time is sort of a funny thing," Ballmer said. "You need to give new technologies time to incubate before you try to bring them together," he added. "Let each [technology] come to market individually and then do the integration."

Microsoft spent the first two years of its Vista development process building a variety of new technologies and then struggled to integrate them, according to Ballmer. The third year went smoothly as Microsoft's developers focused their efforts on the Windows XP Service Pack 2, with some of that technology ultimately winding up in Vista, not XP. The bulk of what has now been released as Vista Microsoft developed in the last two to two and half years, Ballmer said.

With his habitual flair for superlatives, Ballmer described Vista as."the highest quality, most secure Windows operating system ever." However, he was quick to add that Microsoft won't rest on its laurels. In its next Windows client OS release, the vendor will look to do more to support the major changes already under way in computer hardware, notably the shift from single-core to multicore processors and improvements in network infrastructure, he said.

Microsoft also wants to offer more functionality in its OS for IT administrators so that the software is simpler to manage and for software developers in relation to storage management and other features that didn't make it into Vista, according to Ballmer.

A future operating system also needs to take into account the move from software to software-as-a-service or as Ballmer said, "software plus service." Users can expect to see "a lot more service enablement" in the Windows OS, he said.

Ballmer estimated that by the time Microsoft launches the consumer versions of Vista and Office 2007 scheduled for Jan. 30, 2007 worldwide, the company will have spent "hundreds of millions of dollars" on marketing the new software.

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